Draw Your Brakes! Scotty – ‘School-Days’ reviewed

Reissued & expanded by Doctor Bird, 1971’s ‘School-Days’ is regarded as the first true deejay album.

The Jamaican popular music scene of 1970 placed many established singers in an uncertain position. Following the evolution from rock steady into reggae, deejay sounds threatened their very position. Singers had to adapt or look elsewhere. U-Roy had reinvented the wheel see, his early salvos for Treasure Isle having occupied top spots in the island’s charts for some three months. No longer were records purely reliant on ‘sung’ vocals.

One individual potentially ‘at risk’ was David ‘Scotty’ Scott. He had achieved immediate success with his rock steady trio The Federals, the classic Penny For Your Song leading the way. Scotty then formed The Chosen Few in ’68. More hits followed. The band’s flamboyant stage image, snappy dance moves and their ‘Island Soul’ sound were popular with the masses and cemented Scotty’s star status. He linked up with producer Derek Harriott in 1970 to begin his solo career. In the process, he combined his own deejay and singing voices. A kind of ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ approach.  ‘Singjay’.

Born Derrick Scott in Westmoreland, Kingston in 1951, Scotty was one of Jamaican music’s most colourful, charming and gifted individuals. His long player School-Days was released in the UK on Trojan in 1971, and on Harriott’s Crystal Records in Jamaica. It is regarded as the first true deejay album and helped pave the way for many of the subsequent toaster long players. For instance, Big Youth’s Screaming Target. School-Days is being reissued by Doctor Bird Records, its eleven cuts bolstered by two bonus tracks from Scotty and seven version cuts by The Crystalites, Derek Harriott’s crack in-house studio band. A great selection of photographs, together with sleeve notes by Harry Hack, accompany the sounds.

After School-Days, Scotty released further material with Harriott before moving to the USA. His output became minimal. As seemed natural given his personality, he returned to the island and became involved in the dance hall reggae scene. His ‘singjay’ style, combining singing and deejay delivery, fitted right in, see. Scotty sadly passed away in 2003, taken from us by prostate cancer. However, his legacy is profound.

This legacy is influenced by his interpretation of the seminal Stop That Train. It was written by Prince Buster and initially recorded by ska band The Spanishtonians in 1965. Derek Harriott then recorded his own rock steady reinvention with Keith and Tex. Scotty took the chassis and gave Stop That Train a deejay makeover. Retitled Draw Your Brakes, it catapulted Scotty to international fame by sound-tracking the opening sequence to The Harder They Come movie. It also opens up School-Days. Scotty’s colour is stamped all over the recording with his toasting really sealing the deal.

The dialogue intro to Children, Children continues the approach. This time another Keith and Tex track, Tonight, provides the chassis. Vocal duties largely spoken, squawked, yelped and chanted. His toasting style was like an old school mento mc, and often used children’s nursery rhymes as a prerequisite to more adult themes. Scotty’s voice didn’t have a deep tone, but was natural, resonant and full of Jamaican smile. Children, Children is a fantastic track, and its performance superb.

The Federals’ gorgeous rock steady beauty Penny For Your Son, was given an endearing, faithful update for Scotty’s debut solo outing. And why not? A true gem, now with slightly fatter bass.

Scotty’s freestyling delivery on Jam Rock Style works with the track’s loose feel. It is written by Scotty and Harriott, as are many of the numbers here. Another example is the moody I Worry. Scotty’s haunting vocals provide an edgy performance, with the man agitated about his woman and articulating this through his work. Sharp guitar work courtesy of The Crystalites’ Linford Brown.

Another big one, the lively and pumping Musical Chariot closes side one of the original vinyl issue of School-Days. The number was road-tested by Derek Harriott at his own disco and was in fact cut while Scotty was still in The Chosen Few. Obviously, a floor filler.

The uplifting Sing Along is exactly what an opening cut on the second side of any record should sound like. The listener must be kept engaged, right? These variations in tempo and feel allow the album to ebb and flow, something that is sadly often neglected in the download age. Scotty’s voice is full of Caribbean charm and smile, with terrific brass prominent in the backing.

The sensitive vocal on Rosemarie provides a reminder of Scotty’s singing talent. Barely any toasting aside from the odd yelp and howl. Scotty’s vocal is high up in the mix, dominating, as it should, this heart felt ballad.

Sesame Street is in fact a deejay do-over of Derek Harriott’s solo smash The Loser. It works very well, with the original’s soulful, celestial voices working with the earthy piano. Scotty’s fun-filled verse then jumps in. It is a tribute to the American kids’ TV show, underlining Scotty’s playful persona. Again, good use of an existing number’s basis given the deejay treatment.

The soulful vibe carries on into one of the album’s stand outs, Lonely Man. An engaging and convincing vocal from Scotty.

We switch back to deejay stylings for another do-over of a Derek Harriott hit – Solomon. Scotty’s work is entitled Riddle I This and closes the album. Again, it is fun-filled, Scotty’s cheeky character again referencing nursery rhymes. Despite School-Days being such an innovative recording, it still has plenty of room for light-hearted moments and does not take itself it too seriously.

The first of Scotty’s own bonus tracks, Monkey Drop, continues along this road. Yet more nursery rhyme verse contributing to another loose jam. Clean Race has a superb performance on the mic from the man – rhythmic yet clear, with deliberate highs and lows, oozing Jamaican charm and personality. Both were 45s issued on Songbird Records in Jamaica.

The remaining cuts are all versions of album tracks by The Crystalites. It is no surprise that a number as strong as Stop That Train/Draw Your Brakes sounds fantastic instrumentally. Its mood, chord progression and guitar riff are almost made to be heard this way. Likewise, Children Version, though Scotty’s opening salvo and some vocal phrases are retained. The latter tactic is repeated in the version form of Penny For Your Song. Its resonant backing track is obviously more to the fore, very earthy and altogether real. The remaining cuts are similar, Scotty’s vocal chopping in and out. The most interesting cut is Train Version, which sees Harriott at work as a deejay producer, using the mixing desk and instrumentation on cue.

School-Days is an important record in Jamaican music. It was dominated by the new deejay ‘toasting’ style. Later, more celebrated toasters largely superseded Scotty. They may have been different stylistically, but the likes of I Roy and Big Youth owed a great deal to Scotty’s decision to adapt to the times and produce – with help from Derek Harriott – such a ground-breaking long player.

Scotty: ‘School-Days’ (Doctor Bird Records DBCD076) is released April 9, 2021 by Cherry Red Records, RRP £10.95. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.

❉ Cherry Red Records have been releasing and reissuing the most innovative and independent thinking music since 1978. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

❉ Paul Matts is a writer from Leicester, England. His first novella, ‘Donny Jackal’, a kitchen-sink coming of age drama set in English punk rock suburbia in 1978, is out now both in paperback and as an E-book. His fiction has been featured in Punk Noir Magazine, Brit Grit Alley and Unlawful Acts. Paul also writes articles on music, in particular on the punk and new wave movement, and is a regular contributor for We Are Cult, Punkglobe, Razur Cuts and Something Else magazines. See https://paulmatts101.wordpress.com/ for more details, and to subscribe for updates.

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